Of all the heart disease statistics flying around at Friday’s Morristown Women In Business luncheon, these numbers were most important:
Dr. Claire Boccia Liang, director of women’s heart programs for the Atlantic Health System, said too many stoic women ignore heart attack symptoms–or ask friends or family for a lift to the hospital.
“Don’t call your sister. Your sister doesn’t have a defibrillator,” said Dr. Liang, relating the tragic story of a woman who “stroked out” during such a ride a few years ago.
The cardiologist addressed more than 100 local businesswomen, many clad in red for the American Heart Association’s “Go Red for Women” campaign, at the Hyatt Morristown.
Organized by Marisa Sweeney, owner of BeWell Morristown, the monthly gathering of the Morristown Women In Business also spotlighted Connie Hagelin’s Top This boutique.
TRIPLE WAKE-UP CALL
Dr. Liang said she never made distinctions between men’s and women’s heart health until she became pregnant with triplets.
Even while at rest, she said, her heart was beating 120 times per minute to pump blood to three placentas.
“I could not function independently,” she recounted.
Photos by Bill Lescohier. Please see icon below for captions.
Dr. Liang revealed some shocking stats about female hearts. Since 1984, heart disease has killed more women than men. In fact, she said, heart conditions kill more women than all cancers combined, including breast cancer. For reasons not yet fully understood, heart attacks are more likely to prove fatal in younger women than in younger men.
“One in two women in this room will die of heart disease,” said the physician, who holds degrees from Cornell and Harvard universities.
The good news? Perhaps only 20 percent of the problem is hereditary. Practical steps can help ladies avoid becoming victims of heart disease, according to Dr. Liang.
Women can take control of their blood pressure, cholesterol levels and diabetes. They can exercise, lose weight and quit smoking, and reduce stress levels.
Healthy eating helps. Replace salty and processed foods and trans-fats with fiber-rich legumes, nuts and olive oil. Eat more fish and chicken and less red meat. Reduce portions. Recipes are here.
(Marisa Sweeney, a dietician, said trendy diets abound but the key is finding one that does not discourage you. “If it’s too extreme, it usually doesn’t last,” she said. “It has to be in moderation.”)
Mechanical pacemakers have improved, added Dr. Liang. And prescription doses have been adjusted to reflect the medical community’s realization that women’s hearts differ from men’s, she said.
‘LISTEN TO YOUR BODY’
It’s crucial, of course, to recognize symptoms of trouble and seek medical help swiftly.
“Don’t be like Rosie O’Donnell!” said Dr. Liang, noting how the entertainer waited a day to see doctors after experiencing a heart attack. Warning signs include:
- Throat tightness
- Jaw pain
- Back pain
- A rapid decline in energy during exertion
- Excessive perspiration
- Flu-like symptoms (if over 65)
Women should carry aspirin and chew it (it works faster that way) if they suspect a heart attack–and then they should dial 911, said Dr. Liang, who is based at Morristown Medical Center and Overlook Hospital.
She said it’s time to visit a cardiologist if you have long-lasting palpitations, or become aware of your heartbeat, or experience shortness of breath for no apparent reason.
Mary Dougherty, chairperson of the Morristown Women In Business, said talks like this one convinced her to get tested a few months ago. Fortunately, she passed the tests with flying colors.
“Listen to your body,” she advised.
The Morristown Women In Business will meet for cocktails on March 25, at 5:30 pm, at J & S Designer Flooring on 12 Mt. Kemble Ave. Click their ad on MorristownGreen.com for more details.